Jets try to snap slump vs Blackhawks

- January 26th, 2014

CHICAGO — This new rivalry the Winnipeg Jets are trying to forge with the Chicago Blackhawks have been one-sided so far.

But Sunday’s game marks the first time the Jets have Paul Maurice behind their bench, so it will be interesting to see if they resemble the club that was outscored 15-5 during the first three meetings between Central Division rivals.

The Blackhawks are another one of the dominant home teams, with a record of 18-3-7 to go along with the 32-9-12 overall mark.

But the Jets earned a split while playing in two of the toughest buildings in the league last week, so they’ve got some recent meetings to draw on.

But the Blackhawks will likely have an ornery element to their game, coming off a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild and going just 2-1-2 in their past five outings.

“They’ve dropped a couple games, which means they’ll be even more focused and I expect them to play a little more north-south game and to be really ready to go, right off the hop here to try and take advantage of our schedule,” said Maurice, referring to the fact the Jets traveled to Chicago after Saturday’s 5-4 OT win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. “We’re still early enough on in what we’re trying to do that our focus is mostly on the Winnipeg Jets and playing another team that is similar to Anaheim, San Jose, in what they’re going to attempt to do.”

What does Maurice see as the keys for his group going into this fourth meeting of the season against the Blackhawks?

“We’re going to have to control the puck more than we did in those two games (against Anaheim and San Jose),” said Maurice. “Simplicity. At the end of the day what is important for us is not to have self-inflicted wounds against a team that’s going to get their own chances on their own skill level.

“Being positionally sound is not enough. Give them any more time and space than they need and they can still get to holes. Speed is the most difficult thing to handle in the NHL and when you add a high level of skill to that speed, you’re going to have all that you can handle.”

During his pre-game address, Maurice confirmed what was suspected and I reported in Sunday’s paper, that backup Al Montoya will make his first start since Jan. 5.

Montoya has been spectacular this season, going 8-4-1 with a 2.31 GAA and .921 save percentage, but he has surrendered 10 goals in his past two starts. However, I’d caution that those two starts came during a stretch that saw the Jets playing some of their worst defensive hockey of the campaign, so take that for what it’s worth.

Maurice also said he was planning to make at least one change on his fourth line, one that saw less than six minutes of ice time on Saturday.

Since it’s a back-to-back situation, the Jets will need to have a contribution from that fourth unit.

“I would be looking to have a group that I can get onto the ice a little bit more,” said Maurice.

Based on the pre-game warm-up, it looks like Eric O’Dell draws back in for James Wright and will play with Anthony Peluso and Chris Thorburn.

Corey Crawford gets the call in goal for the Blackhawks, who have a little lineup intrigue of their own going, as D Duncan Keith is returning to the lineup after missing Thursday’s game with the flu and playoff hero Bryan Bickell is a possibility to be a healthy scratch.

UPDATE: Bickell wasn’t on ice for warm-up and he’s expected to be scratched. Mike Kostka skated up front for warm-up, but is in the lineup as Michal Roszival is the healthy scratch along with Bickell as the ‘Hawks dress 7 D.

Here’s how I expect both teams to start on Sunday:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Devin Setoguchi-Olli Jokinen-Dustin Byfuglien
Chris Thorburn-Eric O’Dell-Anthony Peluso

Toby Enstrom-Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Keaton Ellerby

Al Montoya (Ondrej Pavelec)

Spares: D Zach Redmond, LW Eric Tangradi, LW James Wright

Blackhawks

Patrick SharpJonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Patrick Kane
Kris Versteeg-Michal Handzus-Mike Kostka
Brandon Bolli-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy-Sheldon Brookbank

Corey Crawford (Antti Raanta)

Spares: LW Bryan Bickell, D Michal Rozsival

Categories: Hockey

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